Closed-door trial begins for Dade residents imprisoned in Cuba
BY FRANCES ROBLES
Ernestino Abreu Horta and Vicente Martínez Rodríguez
are aging exiles, fighting poor health, Fidel Castro and
26-year prison sentences.
The two Miami-Dade men went on trial in Cuba Thursday,
accused of fomenting a revolution. Cuban prosecutors
began the closed-door trial by requesting 26-year prison
sentences for two men -- ages 75 and 66 -- who they say
entered the country illegally with a cache of arms.
The pair decided two years ago to spend their autumn
years in Cuba to proselytize about democracy and free
elections. Members of a quasi-commando group known
as the Movement of Revolutionary Recovery, they
boarded a boat and headed for Pinar del Río, ready for a
``I knew it wasn't a good idea, but a good cause,'' said
Secundino Blanco Martínez, Vicente's brother. ``Causes
can either be taken on or dropped. He took it on.''
The landing was planned for about a year, after the FBI
seized two MRR boats carrying weapons and ammunition
a few miles off Marathon. Their presence in Cuba was
detected immediately. The two men and Martínez's
nephews who met up with them in Cuba took to the hills
to avoid the manhunt.
Abreu, a 75-year-old South Dade engineer, and Martínez,
a 66-year-old Sweetwater truck driver, were caught nine
days later. They've been in jail ever since.
Supporters say the two have been imprisoned in a variety
of sick wards and in roach-infested cells for violent
``They went there without arms to spread the word that Cuba had
democratic, that Cuba needed elections,'' said Roberto Rodriguez de Aragon, of
the Cuban Patriotic Junta. ``Fidel Castro believes in nothing and nobody. The day
he needs something he can buy with their freedom, he'll release them.
``In the meantime, they put them in sick wards so they can die
diseases and the government can say they didn't kill them.''
Abreu is an agronomist and developer who headed the Cuban Patriotic
influential exile organization. He was one eight exile leaders who met with
President Clinton at the White House in 1996 after the shooting down of the
Brothers to the Rescue planes.
Martínez is a former member of the revolutionary army who
was jailed a year after
turning his back on Castro.
``There are many people who talk a lot about changing the politics
Elizardo Sánchez Santa Cruz of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights said
from Havana. ``There is a right to only talk. What's notable is that these men were
talking and at the same time taking action. They should be respected for that.''
Sánchez said the Cuban government denied his group's plea
to hire lawyers for
the men. Instead, they were assigned designated lawyers to be paid with U.S.
dollars, Sánchez said.
``It doesn't offer a lot of guarantees,'' he said.
Observers hope the men will be released because of their age and
concerns. A State Department official said because the Cuban government does
not recognize dual citizenship, the prisoners have been denied access to the U.S.
Thousands of signatures were collected in Miami demanding their
Petitions were presented to Abreu's wife and daughter, who flew to Cuba for the
``Castro laughs at these gestures,'' Rodríguez said.